Tuesday, May 1, 2012

MHDC - Lily

Humans seek belonging. We love to feel part of something, know that we have friends, be accepted. This fundamental characteristic is behind the Moishe House goal of creating meaningful experiences for young Jews around the world. Since living in the Washington, DC iteration of the amazing experiment in community-building that is Moishe House, I have gotten a chance to stretch my creativity and broaden my perspectives on what community is, how to create it, and how to nurture it. Luckily, around the time I stepped into my role as a Moishe House resident about year ago, I had a fantastic idea handed down to me: Sing for Your Supper (SFYS) has become one of the most successful community-building tools in my arsenal. Music has been a central part of every human civilization. We have different tastes and cultural paradigms, sure, but few people ever leave the earth without singing something. There is more to singing, however, than just creating music. Singing creates community. Last fall, I was reunited with a group of friends from a fellowship year in India. The focus of our group is not musical at all - we were volunteers dealing with various social problems of a complex developing country. But while living together, we had done a lot of singing just for fun. We were a group of very different people with different musical tastes and personality types, yet we got along surprisingly well. As our reunion weekend drew to a close, we walked arm and arm down the sidewalk in Manhattan, singing something that I'm sure was as cheesy as Frank Sinatra or the Backstreet Boys. Someone said, "Do you guys think we're so close because we sang together?" That question planted a seed. I thought about how people have historically connect across language, culture and social problems through song. The civil rights movement came to mind, old slave spirituals, and the critical role music played in the anti-apartheid movement. People empowered and united by music. I remembered how in my public health work in India, songs carried messages of health and nutrition to rural, uneducated communities. Would that message have been as effective if spoken? I thought about communities I'd met in my college days in Vermont, who gathered on cold winter nights to pass on songs as old as America through fiddles, guitars and voices. Could we appreciate the old traditions through recordings alone? I thought about how so much American music can trace its roots to church, and about the time my Rabbi told our congregation to sing because it was holy. "Angels move through you when you sing," he'd said on Rosh Hashana. Joining voices has a power beyond the song. SYFS has not always had its own acronym. It is an old Irish tradition wherein a host cooks a meal and the guests repay the hospitality by performing a song. When I hosted my first supper at Moishe House, the turnout was small. To make the experience more accessible, we decided that the songs not necessarily be performances, but rather sing-along style. It turned out to be a mixture of both, and we had a great time! Since then, the SFYS phenomenon has grown tremendously. The hosting is passed around, and each event is unique but consistently fun, joyfully noisy, and welcoming environment. Most importantly, I've found, the typical social ice is broken and people talk to each other more freely. We leave the communal music-making event with huge smiles on our faces. There is certainly no greater sign of success in the endless quest for human connection.

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